If you’re reading this it means that you’re either a new person here who stumbled on my internet safe space, or you’re one of my core readers, with me from the start (thanks!). For the last few months I’ve been toiling over what I consider my main work; that is my memoir. I’m happy to tell you that my initial draft is done, as well as some content edits, and I’m moving forward in the march toward having a real book with my name on the cover. It’s exciting.
I was a writer, by hobby anyway, from the time I could hold a pen and write words, so it surprised me to find that, as much as I wanted to write, finish, and publish my memoir, I avoided sitting down to write. At the beginning I would open up the saved document and work on it only when inspiration struck me, and after I signed the book contract I did the same, but I also sat down to write even when the creative juices weren’t flowing as well. When I did that, the writing was work, not as enjoyable for me, but that’s what happens when you have a deadline. So when my developmental editor sent a message saying, “Send me your first full draft on June 19th!” I had to stop waiting for inspirations of genius and start getting my butt in the chair and working. And that was hard.
Without inspiration, the writing work was, well, work. Better, more fulfilling work than working on a project I didn’t love, but still work. The work-ness of the work didn’t surprise me; I wrote plenty of papers in college that were pure work all the way through, but the difference was that this was my book. And not just my book, my memoir. My sentimental brain was consistently stuck on old memories, good and bad, and often I found that I was reexperiencing the emotions surrounding certain events, to the point that I had to remind myself, when it came time to take a break or tend to something else, that the specific event I was writing about was in the past. When I wrote about meeting and falling in love with my husband, I got frustrated when, in real life right now, he didn’t dote on me the way he did back then. When my mom, brother, and sister-in-law visited for my son’s graduation, I felt angry with my mom about something I’d written about that happened when I was 17. I’d worked past all these things already, but the emotions of those memories remained attached.
I have always been sentimental, perhaps to a fault, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that such intense work induced strong feelings. The American Heritage Dictionary defines sentiment as “a thought, view, or attitude, especially one based mainly on emotion instead of reason.” As a person with big feelings it’s a little frustrating to see emotion and reason as two different ways of thinking, but in my experience that isn’t wrong. When I react emotionally to something I have to force myself to think in a reasonable way.
My tendency to place great value on the sentimental is, I think, an outgrowth of living with the fear (and now reality) of having Alzheimer’s, and the repercussions of that fear come out in good ways and bad ways. After writing about an argument with my mom that happened when I was a teenager, I was angry with her when she visited. The same emotions are what compelled me to save several good-sized boxes of my children’s school work and memoriabilia, even though we made several moves in the ensuing years. Each time we moved I did go through those boxes and purge some of the items inside, but its still a lot.
As my short-term memory continues to progressively fail, my desire to be surrounded by the things I’ve loved over forty years becomes stronger. The walls of my home are covered with photos and objects that I or another family member loves or is proud of. But they’re just things, tokens of moments and events that I want to mark in my memory, even if know I will eventually lose them again. I don’t know if this is a healthy habit or a poor one, but I can tell you that my walls and cabinets and boxes are full because my heart is full, not because of the stuff itself, but with the memories of a shared past with the people I love. My walls are marked with legacy that others would call “stuff,” and because the future for me can seem a little dim and sometimes even frightening, I want to have as much of the past as I can hold onto.